Vancouver public art honours people exposed to asbestos

North America’s first public memorial for people exposed to asbestos will be unveiled this Fall, on the waterfront path by the Vancouver Convention Centre. 

Photo of asbestos memorial mobile installed outside on the waterfront of Vancouver with people riding by it on bicycles

Photo credit: BC Labour Heritage Centre

Each year, more than a million people pass by the location where a unique asbestos memorial will be unveiled this Fall. Created by Vancouver artist Doug Taylor, this Wind Wheel Mobile will be located next to the public waterfront.

“Viewers can look across Burrard Inlet to the docks where asbestos was loaded onto ships for decades, for export around the world,” says Joey Hartman, chair of the BC Labour Heritage Centre board.

This public monument is the first of its kind in North America. Its position will be at the foot of “Line of Work” – an installation of art and educational plaques placed to recognize workers killed and injured on the job.

“We expect it to become one of Vancouver’s most iconic pieces of public art,” Joey says. “The mobile tail represents lungs, connected by a bronchial system to spokes and cups that symbolize asbestos fibres.”

How are you exposed to asbestos?

Joey says the intent of the memorial is to remind people that asbestos is all around us – in office buildings, schools, hospitals, and homes throughout B.C.

Disturbing asbestos-containing materials releases asbestos fibres into the air, and they can then be breathed in and damage lungs. Workers such as carpenters, plumbers, and demolition and renovation contractors are at a high risk of exposure to asbestos fibres. See WorkSafeBC’s Asbestos webpage for more information about how to reduce the risks.

“Since there can be a delay of 10 to 20 years between exposure and diagnosis, asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related diseases are predicted to result in about 600 new fatalities per year across Canada for years to come,” Joey says.

Creating awareness of asbestos risks

The Asbestos Related Research, Education & Advocacy Fund is one of the donors to the memorial project. This fund was created by Tracy Ford and her mom in 2010 after Tracy’s father Dave died from mesothelioma. He acquired the disease from a long career working at a pulp and paper mill.

Mesothelioma is a terminal form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Tracy spoke in honour of her father at the 2022 Day of Mourning ceremony in Vancouver. (Read more in my post Honouring loved ones on the Day of Mourning.)

“I think the new memorial will be something that will make people stop and look, and actually want to go over and find out what it’s about,” Tracy says.

Thank you to Joey for telling me about this important memorial that honours those we’ve lost and warns the rest of us to be mindful of this ever-present risk.

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